DePaul’s advisory board considers student insurance plan

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Alexandro Esparza, a junior at DePaul University who studies neuroscience, has been without health insurance his entire life.

Because her father is an entrepreneur with no benefits from his employers, her family does not receive health insurance because it is too expensive on the open market.

“As far back as I can remember, we paid out of pocket,” Esparza said. “When we go to Mexico, my dad buys a three-week supply of his diabetes medication because it’s so much cheaper there.”

Esparza is just one of many students living without health insurance in the United States.

“Students are probably the largest coherent group of uninsured Americans,” said Stephen Beckley, co-organizer of the Lookout Mountain Group (LMG), a nonprofit dedicated to student health care reform, told The DePaulia.

According to a Press release from the LMG, a report found that 1.7 million students were still uninsured in 2018.

Samantha Moilanen

When Esparza enrolled at DePaul, he sought to receive benefits from the university, only to find that DePaul did not offer student health insurance.

“I don’t know why we don’t all have insurance at this point,” Esparza said.

Last year, the DePaul Student Health Insurance Task Force conducted a investigation using a representative sample of students to assess the need for health insurance at DePaul. The survey found that 9% of DePaul students are uninsured, which is higher than the national average of 7.9% according to LMG.

Now, DePaul students will soon be able to take advantage of health insurance offered by the university. The Student Health Insurance Advisory Committee, which began as the DePaul Student Health Insurance Task Force last winter, has begun the process of finalizing a health care plan.

According to Jay Baglia, a health communications professor at DePaul who currently serves on the health insurance committee, said they will soon approve a health care plan that will be offered to students by the fall term of 2023.

Kimberlie Goldsberry, associate vice president of student affairs, said the committee will review proposal submissions to evaluate each provider, focusing on price, quality of coverage and references from other campuses using their services. The committee’s overall assessment of each vendor will be submitted to President DePaul’s office for review and decision.

“The core work of the… committee of submitting a request for proposals (RFP), reviewing proposals received, and offering vendor feedback to President DePaul’s office by mid-December is on track,” Goldsberry said.

Once the plan is approved, the university will decide how to distribute the additional cost of insurance fees over the overall tuition.

“There will be four companies bidding on our set of criteria,” Baglia said. “We will select a carrier as soon as possible, and with that carrier decision, will come the price.”

As long as the cost of tuition does not increase significantly, students are optimistic about the new plan.

“Whether [the plan] is affordable, I think that could be a really good thing because I know a lot of other people don’t have insurance,” Esparza said.

Baglia said the committee is discussing the financial implications of a tuition increase for students who choose to receive health insurance from DePaul.

“We had a little debate on this committee that … when we locate and contract with an insurer, it will affect the total cost that students pay to go to DePaul,” Baglia said.

When the university implements a healthcare plan, it will be a requirement for all students unless they provide proof of a comparable plan, according to Goldsberry. The committee does not know if there will be an exemption option at this time.

“The vast majority of universities have student health insurance [and] require students to have health insurance,” Baglia said. “If students do not have health insurance through their parents, they are almost always required, unless an exemption can be identified, to be offered student health insurance by the university. “

Although the plan will be a university requirement, Baglia is confident it will be affordable, and DePaul will work with students to incorporate health insurance into financial aid.

“Student health insurance is incredibly cheap compared to insurance for the majority of the population,” Baglia said. “The students are young, they don’t have a lot of physical problems, so it’s easy to insure them.

Baglia said the committee estimates the health insurance plan will be around $2,000 to $3,000 a year.

According to Beckley, most students without health insurance come from middle-income families who cannot afford the high cost of insurance and do not receive benefits from their workplace. Therefore, Beckley feels it is imperative that all universities offer health insurance to their students.

“It’s so important to have access to good health insurance because without it you can really get into financial trouble,” Beckley said.

Baglia, whose role on the committee is to articulate students’ need for health insurance, is also an advocate for all students with health insurance, whether from the university they attend, their parents or alternative means such as the Affordable Care Act.

“The last thing a 21-year-old needs is an abysmal health bill,” Baglia said. “It’s not about whether you’re healthy or not, it’s about the fact that a health crisis is popping up out of nowhere.”

For Esparza, DePaul’s decision to work on providing a health insurance plan for students is a step in the right direction.

The committee hopes to make its recommendation and finalize a plan through the board of directors by the end of this academic year.

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